Highlights from OMSSA's 2019 Policy Conference

OMSSA hosted more than 250 delegates at our sold out Policy Conference on December 3-4 in Toronto. With a theme of Shifting Gears, the conference enabled human services leaders, provincial leaders, policy-makers and subject matter experts to take part in important dialogues needed to navigate, shape and collaboratively lead our sector through the next phase in its ongoing evolution. Have a look below for key highlights:

Valuable Keynotes

On December 3, the conference opened with an address from the Honourable Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark. The Minister spoke of the responsibility that his Ministry and OMSSA's members share to the people of Ontario to provide safe, affordable housing that matches peoples needs. 

He also highlighted some of the priority areas that the Province is working towards, including working with service managers and municipalities on reducing regulatory burdens, ensuring local flexibility to meet communities' unique needs, promoting innovation, increasing affordable housing supply, and supporting overall community housing renewal. Minister Clark also spoke to some of the recently completed initiatives that the government has pursued after hearing input from OMSSA's members and other sector partners, including removing rules that punish tenants for gaining extra income or seeking education opportunities, and simplifying rent-geared-to-income calculations.

The Minister also assured members that Ontario's municipalities and non-profits would receive priority access to the Ontario Priorities Housing Initiative to fund new, affordable rental housing, and encouraged service managers and municipalities to continue to bring forward their ideas for creating a more efficient, effective and sustainable community housing system for Ontarians.

Next, delegates had the chance to hear from five Assistant Deputy Ministers and one Director from five provincial ministries, in a fireside chat moderated by OMSSA Board Member and CAO of Kenora District Services Board Henry Wall. The fireside chat included: Noah Morris, ADM, Enterprise Financial Services Division, Ministry of Government and Consumer Services; Erin McGinn, ADM, Workforce Policy and Innovation Division, Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development; Shannon Fuller, ADM, Strategic Policy and Planning Division, Ministry of Education; Richard Steele, ADM, Social Assistance Programs Division, Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services; Jill Vienneau, ADM, Strategic Policy Division, Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services; and Peter Kiatipis, Director, Community Housing Policy Branch, Housing Division, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing​.

OMSSA Board Member Henry Wall moderated a discussion among the panelists that spanned many issues of interest to both provincial ministries and OMSSA's membership. In a casual and friendly format, the panelists spoke to the Province’s broader vision for modernization, as well as how each ministries’ initiatives intersect and contribute. The conversation touched on many areas, including:
  • the Province's efforts to break down silos and further integration across ministries
  • reducing administrative burdens
  • pursuing new and innovative partnerships
  • employment services transformation
  • working towards a more effective, coordinated approach to managing OW and ODSP
  • life stabilization services
  • integration and coordination between social assistance, mental health and employment programs
  • commissioning as an approach to service delivery
  • how to improve the client experience and ensure better engagement across multiple needs
  • what changes are required to ensure that our sectors are working effectively towards common goals
  • achieving more meaningful and earlier communication from the Province to municipalities ahead of program and funding changes
  • the need for greater local program flexibility to more effectively meet communities' needs

Day 2 of the conference opened with a panel discussion on the state of social policy, moderated by OMSSA Board Secretary Grace Mater. Panelists included: Garima Talwar Kapoor, Director of Policy and Research at Maytree; Monika Turner, Policy Director at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO); Dr. Gary Bloch, Family Physician at St. Michael’s Hospital and Inner City Health Associates; and Petr Varmuza, PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

The panel had an engaging discussion on the changing directions of social policy in Ontario, its impacts on service managers, communities and clients, and what we can do to evolve, problem-solve, seize opportunities, and mitigate potential challenges. Moderator Grace Mater asked each panelist to end off with a final piece of advice for service managers as we navigate our changing policy environment. Here's what they had to say:
Garima Talwar Kapoor, Maytree: The biggest challenge facing the social services sector continues to be siloed funding. It’s important to continue advocating for a different funding model, and to ask for flexible funding envelopes until this systemic change occurs. It's also important to make sure that communities' voices are heard. Consider doing your own community consultations about social assistance reform and then share what you hear with the Province. 

Monika Turner, AMO: Keep talking to the government about what integrated services look like on the ground. Tell them what you are doing, give them ideas. And talk to health care officials about how the housing continuum affects the healthcare continuum. Talk about where people live and how that affects outcomes for them and their families and communities.

Dr. Gary Bloch, St. Michael's Hospital: Keep telling the stories that show the consequences of government policies on the lives of real people. We have the funds in our society to build programs as strong as they were 40 years ago. If we can create a system that focuses on providing for the real needs of people who have suffered the most under our system, we can truly turn things around.

Petr Varmuza, OISE, University of Toronto: Preventing the quality of child care from declining for Ontario's most vulnerable will be critical. Make sure you have a mechanism in place to measure quality and that you have baseline data to allow you to track how quality may change over time. Even more importantly, make this local data available to the public so that community members can do their own research, form their own conclusions, and do their own advocacy.

In-Depth Breakout Sessions

Throughout the conference, delegates had the chance to participate in a variety of in-depth breakout sessions designed to encourage dialogue with key sector partners as well as showcase promising approaches to policy and programs from inside and outside of Ontario's human services sector. Sessions included:
Commissioning for Service-Focused Outcomes: A dialogue-driven session moderated by MCCSS Deputy Minister Janet Menard and featuring speakers from the Region of Peel, KPMG Canada and Strategy Corp, exploring the challenges and opportunities of a commissioning-based approach to providing human services.

Take a Look into Digital Space: Featuring an exclusive preview from and dialogue wtith the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services on the new MyBenefits portal and Electronic Document Management process.

Shifting to Data-Driven Social Services: Exploring leading practices from jursdictions across Ontario and beyond on how social services providers are using data to guide planning and service delivery, and to direct resources toward areas that provide the most return on investment and benefit to individuals and communities.

Human Services Integration Best Practices: Exploring the successes, unexpected challenges, and lessons learned by jurisdictions that have moved forward with ambitious human services integration reforms, from the United Counties of Leeds & Grenville to the Region of Waterloo.

Community Safety and Well-Being Planning: Where delegates received a refresher on legislative requirements and the CSWB Planning Framework, followed by insights and lessons learned from Halton Region and the Halton Regional Police Service as early adopters of CSWB planning.

Partnerships in Housing and Mental Health: Examining the successes and lessons learned by Thunder Bay DSSAB in working with community partners to address homelessness coupled with mental health and addiction issues through their Home for Good program.

Innovative Partnerships for Inclusive Communities: Exploring collaborative work between the Kenora District Services Board, Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services and Nishnawbe Gamik Friendship Centre to pursue culturally appropriate housing, while navigating challenges related to NIMBY-ism, harm reduction and more.
Provincial Centre of Excellence for Early Years and Child Care: Giving delegates an opportunity to learn more about the mandate and open up a dialogue with the new Centres of Excellence on opportunities to collaboatively build capacity within the early years sector.
Speakers joined us from a variety of member organizations including the Region of Peel, Halton Region, Waterloo Region, York Region, the City of Toronto, the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, Thunder Bay DSSAB, and the Kenora District Services Board. 

The conference also brought in expertise from across the broader human services sectors and beyond, with subject matter experts joining us from KPMG Canada, BlueprintQueen's University, Ontario Aboriginal Housing ServicesNishnawbe Gamik Friendship Centre, Dilico Anishinabek Family Care, Halton Regional Police Service, and the Ministry of the Solicitor General.

Presentation decks from selected breakout sessions are available here on our website

Taking Stock with Human Services Leaders

Ontario’s 47 CMSMs and DSSABs are all facing similar challenges, and the value of exchanging knowledge and learning from each other cannot be overstated. Over the course of the two-day conference, delegates had the chance to participate in five dedicated, professionally-facilitated "think tank" discussions, to set shared priorities and engage on key pressure points for our sector, from budget planning and finding efficiencies, to managing human resources challenges and serving hard-to-reach clients.

The sessions were co-led by professional facilitators and subject matter experts from among OMSSA's membership. Thanks are in order for Barnes Management Group, Thunder Bay DSSAB's Bill Bradica, the City of Peterborough's Ellen Armstrong, the City of London's Kevin Dickins, the City of Hamilton's Steve Fletcher, Wellington County's Luisa Artuso, Parry Sound DSSAB's Joe Bradbury, and OMSSA Facilitator David Thomas for helping to lead these lively and engaging sessions.

Some of the key takeaways included:
  • The importance of effective communications and change management in successfully implementing efficiency-driven or integration initiatives
  • Process mapping and digitization as key avenues for finding efficiencies
  • Leveraging the knowledge and expertise of front-line workers, both to identify opportunities for efficiencies and cost savings, and to build buy-in on change initiatives
  • Flexibility in funding, program design, and outcome measurement are all key ingredients to getting a better return on investment from human services dollars
  • The importance of sharing and accessing good data in usable formats to improving program design and outcomes-driven services
  • Effective employee engagement is key to preventing employee issues from becoming unmanageable further down the road
  • Thinking about and supporting broader employee wellness is a must for effective, proactive human resources management

OMSSA received much positive feedback from delegates about the overall content of the conference, with the think tank sessions being particularly well-received as valuable opportunities for knowledge-exchange. Here's what some of our delegates had to say:
"This was a terrific conference. I am so glad that I brought my team."

"The opportunity to network, share experiences and learn from each other was extremely valuable, particularly in the think tanks."

"The think tank on proactive human resources was an excellent session. Information sharing between delivery agents was most helpful." 
A big thank you goes out to OMSSA's 2019 Policy Conference Planning Committee, whose input helped to ensure that our conference program hit the right notes and addressed the issues and topics most critical to our members:
  • Davina Dixon, Supervisor, Income and Employment Support, Social Services Department, Regional Municipality of Durham
  • Ralph West, Housing Services Administrator, St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services
  • Tammy Kealey-Donaldson, Children’s Services Manager, Lanark County
  • Kevin Dickins, Manager of Employment and Income Supports, City of London

Thank you to the more than 250 delegates who joined us from across the province. Building on the success of this conference, OMSSA is looking forward to providing more opportunities for meaningful networking and knowledge-exchange through our conferences and other events in 2020.